“Greek cuisine is all about the freshness of its ingredients. Although the use of spices is minimal, each ingredient sings through the dish. Also, many Greek chefs believe to work with fewer ingredients, so as to concentrate more on the flavours and textures,” said an effervescent Chef Stratos, who came down to the Hyatt Regency Mumbai for curating The Big Fat Greek Festival (#TheBigFatGreekFest) from Thessaloniki, Greece. It was indeed an opportunity for us, a handful of food-bloggers, to delve into the secrets of Greek food at the Glasshouse recently and #GoGreek at the dinner table. In a week-long celebration of culture and entertainment curated by Chef Stratos, The Greek Food Festival culminated yesterday with a Greek-style lavish Sunday Brunch.
Chef Stratos is very passionate about food. He shifted his residence to his native village and abandoned city life for the love of the greenery in countryside Greece. He takes pride in talking about his own farm and how each tomato in his farm is juicy and different than the pesticide-treated tomatoes that we get in cities. For him, working with fresh ingredients and preserving his beloved grandma’s family recipes, hold importance. While he introduced us to his style of cooking and Greek cuisine, he stressed on the fact that how the same dish would taste way better in Greece because of the quality of the ingredients back home!
We were treated with a non-alcoholic traditional Greek welcome dink called Vissinatha, which looked like a glass of rubies. The cordial is made with big-sized sour cherries which are boiled in sugar syrup. Unlike the Romanian Vissinatha, the Greek version doesn’t have any alcohol. The drink serves as an Aperitif and is believed to be good for health. The drink adds sparkle to your tastebuds and opens up your palate to subtle Greek cuisine. According to Chef Stratos, having wine or any other alcohol doesn’t go quite well with Greek cuisine. So, Vissinatha was apt for the evening!
We had a colourful plate of Black-Eyed Peas and Pepper Salad. The beans salad was full of freshness because of the pepper in them. I loved the lightness, flavour and the visual appeal of the salad. The black-eyed peas were perfectly firm, yet soft enough.
The Herbed Pita was gone within a few seconds. Paired with a creamy Tzatziki and a smoky Eggplant Dip, this was a combo that was liked by everyone. The whole package was very light and there was no shortage of flavour, though only a few ingredients were used to bring out each dish.
For the vegetarians, there was a hearty and colourful Fasolada Soup, which was basically a classic Greek soup of beans. Did you know that most Greeks would regard this as the Greek national dish? It is interesting to note that, like India, Greece loves vegetarian food as much as it loves meat and seafood! The Fasolada made by Chef Stratos had a generous amount of tomatoes, although Fasolada can be made in slightly different ways in different Greek households, depending on the family recipes. Some cook it without tomatoes and a few others would add rather some spicy sausages to it. But the vegetarian version by Chef Stratos was indeed intriguing with tomatoes.
I had an incredibly light and nourishing Psarosoupa, which had small chunks of seafood. The light yellow soup had a wonderful aroma that came from the pure flavours of the freshest seafood available. No wonder Psarosoupa is one of the most popular soups in Greece! It is very healthy as it is cooked with lots of seafood and vegetables. The soup rests on a delicate balance of sweet and sour, probably a bit sweeter than sour. I am thankful to Chef Stratos for introducing me to a wonderful bowl of warm Psarosoupa: what a perfect dish for a light meal!
The starter menu had other interesting Greek favourites, such as Patatosalata Salad (potato salad), Spinach Salad with Gruyere Balls, Kolokithokeftedes (zucchini fritters), Greek Salad and Keftedakia (pork meat balls). I tasted the minimalistic Greek Salad (the first pic of this post), which was a refreshing combo of Feta cheese, tomatoes and colourful bell peppers. Mpougiourdi was also on the buffet: a simple, satisfying dish in which tomatoes are baked with feta cheese. It was good to observe that the feta was of top quality, a prerequisite in any Greek meal. The pork balls called Keftedakia were soft and juicy, hand-rolled into small balls.
In the Main Course, there were choices like Gemista (stuffed bell peppers with oven roasted potatoes, rice, lemon and oregano) and Souvlaki.
The Gemista was perfect, with the stuffed rice cooked just right along with chopped vegetables and good-quality olive oil. A small amount of tomato sauce over it was a great addition, as the dish would have tasted dry otherwise. The sweetness of the baked peppers was to die for. On the other hand, the Souvlaki was a disappointment for me, as the margination was not strong enough and the dish lacked flavours. The chicken breasts were chewy and dry.
However, the Midia Achnista (mussel risotto) was a real treat. The robust mussels married the rice in the perfectly creamy way. The dish was surprisingly light and full of divine Greek flavours of the sea and the land. This was one of the best savoury dishes in the buffet.
Among the desserts, the eggless Walnut Baklava was pretty awesome, with bite-sized portions of flaky Baklava, which are generally and thankfully, a part of Glasshouse, Hyatt Regency’s buffet spread throughout the year.
Another Greek dessert that caught my attention was Rizogalo (rice pudding) that was mildly sweet and spiced with cinnamon. This eggless dessert was comforting enough and reminded me of the Indian rice kheer, though both taste quite different from each other.
What’s not to love about a traditional Greek Walnut Cake loaded with booze? This rich cake was indeed baked to perfection. There was something so special about the cake: the aroma and the richness were class apart.
But what made me go weak at the knees? It has to be the Turkish-cuisine-inspired Tulumba (fried choux puffs). These moist and sweet pastries were just right to satisfy my big dessert cravings! These puffs are actually like Churros dunked in sugar syrup, though these are much smaller than Churros.
The Big Fat Greek Fest had a few great dishes, which ignited my craving to try out more of Greek food in the near future. Everytime I eat a meal at the unique theme brunches at Hyatt Regency Mumbai, I pick up new, undiscovered flavours. So next time if you catch me cooking up a Gemista or a Fasolada, think of Chef Stratos! My Greek food journey has just begun.
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